But Fortune, inveterate in her opposition, with sad haste spoiled my fine chances and tumbled me into a new mess.
– Apuleius, The Golden Ass
We begin then, reader, a Grecian tale. Attend, and the pleasure is yours. (31)
Indeed. Especially when the story is interspersed with short tales, myths, arching themes, bawdy characters, and philosophy. Apuleius never takes himself too seriously (he edges close at the end, but I forgive him).
However, to prevent the reader from reprehending my righteous indignation by muttering to himself, ‘How long are we to endure this philosophizing ass?’ I shall pick up my narrative at the point where I left it. (233)
If you are not familiar with the tale, part of the humor in that sentence is the fact that Lucius is an ass. In a heated moment of lust and curiosity he convinces his lover Fotis, (who sadly never reappears in the story) to purloin some of her mistress’s magic that will turn him, temporarily, into a bird.
But my relentless density foiled me also in this well-conceived plan. (90)
Bird and ass were apparently held in similar looking containers. Anyone could make that mistake. My own relentless density fills me with understanding, if nothing else.
Many twists and turns ensue. The joy of storytelling becomes infectious. I began regaling my youngest son with some of the tales. I thought for a moment that I should just read the whole book to him:
‘And I,’ answered the other, ‘I have to lie down tamely under a husband who’s tortured and twisted with gout, and who consequently cultivates my venus-plot very sparsely.’ (115)
But I thought better of it.
I found the descriptions very entertaining, but, I’m comfortable not having this conversation with him:
“What’s a venus-plot?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.”
“What does he mean, ‘her quickening tongue ravished me?‘”
So he got the abridged version. Still, the scene between Lucius and Fotis in an all-out bedroom battle with “twanging vitals,” and “pliant lubricity” ending “twined in a warm and mortal embrace, pouring out our souls,” (60), was hilariously debauched and lovely sweet.
Jack Lindsay does a brilliant job as translator. His 30 page introduction is excellent, full of the history of Apuleius (whom quite a bit is known) as well as a fascinating look into the job of translator. He took serious care to get the “mosaic of internal rhymes and assonance” right. The manner and “jingle” of Apulieus’ prose is what he says he strove to capture. I appreciate his attempt to preserve the rhythm, imagery, and “delicate and vivid colors” of this clever author.
It seemed apt to read this book, which suggests the decaying Greco-Roman world passing into the world of Augustinian Christianity, at this time of year. Lucius finds redemption in Isis, aka- Venus/Minerva/Diana/Prosperine/Cere/Juno/Bellona/Hecate/Rhamnusia….which is to say- redemption in love. Love of humanity. At any rate, it was uplifting enough in its humor that I consider it my holiday good cheer attempt. Done.
For you and I and every other man alive have had experiences so curious as to be outside reality, and which when described carry no conviction to those who have not shared them. (45)